According to The Free Dictionary, body modification is described as “Intentional alteration of the human body for religious, aesthetic, or social reasons. Modifications and mutilations are performed for purposes such as magical protection, medical or pseudo-medical intervention, cosmetic enhancement, and punishment. Alterations include head flattening, insertion of a lip plug, tattoos, scarification, piercing of the ear and other parts of the body, circumcision, foot binding, and amputation. That similar modifications are interpreted very differently from one culture to the next is an excellent indication of the relativity of ideals of beauty and deformity.”

Since the beginning of time, people have been consciously modifying their bodies with piercings and tattoos. In 1992, the tattooed body of a 4000-year-old Bronze Age man was found in a glacier on the Austrian border. The ancient Egyptians associated tattooing with nobility and fertility from 4000 to 2000 BCE. Body piercing has also been used throughout the centuries as a symbol of royalty and courage. The word tattoo has its origins in the Tahitian word tattau, meaning “to mark.”

Many hunter-gatherer cultures used tattoos and piercing in initiation rites and as a form of socialization. Today they are popular art forms shared by many cultures, fraternal organizations, and gangs.

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Body modification is a broad category that includes foot binding, hair removal, neck rings, eyeball tattooing, genital cutting and beading, transdermal implants, eyeball jewelry, breast implants, tongue splitting, corsetry, and so much more. Starting next week, specific aspects of body modification will be explored, starting with the ancient art of foot binding.


  1. Body modification. Wikipedia.
  2. Piercing and tattoos. The Free Dictionary.